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UMass prepare for third nationally ranked opponent

Jeff Bernstein

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

It doesn’t appear to be getting any easier for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

After suffering its fourth straight loss Wednesday night to St. Bonaventure, 70-69, at the Mullins Center, the Minutemen face another nationally ranked team Saturday at 4 p.m., when they travel to No. 25 Baylor in their final non-conference game of the season.

“It’s a total building process, to have so many young guys, we just have to stay focused on the task at hand which is to build this program and to just get better everyday,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said regarding the game. “In the process of doing that, you would like to add some W’s and win some close games, because we’ve been in a bunch of them, and I’m anticipating many, many more tough games, and ones that will come down to the wire, and as we mature, we will pull them out at the end.”

Freshman guard Freddie Riley missed a 3-point attempt that would’ve won the game for UMass (7-11, 1-4 Atlantic 10), who came back from a 10-point deficit with four minutes to go in the second half. Senior guard Ricky Harris sprinted the ball up the court, drove and then dished to Riley on the right wing, but the ball hit the rim and fell short.

“He’s fine, I mean, shooters, I don’t think those things bother them too much,” Kellogg said. “I know he’s looking forward to the next time he’s put in that situation, and I’m confident that the next time, he will knock it down.”

Riley leads the team in 3-point field goals made (39), good for a 2.8 made average, while posting a .375 3-point percentage.

UMass has faced a tough schedule, including No. 6 Michigan State and No. 16 Temple earlier this season. The Minutemen fell to the Spartans back on Nov. 28, 106-68, in the Legends Classic Championship, while dropping their third straight conference contest against the Owls last Saturday, 76-64.

“You know this gets us on national television, but it’s probably not a great time to be playing a team with how they’re playing and where they are rated,” Kellogg said of the Temple game. “But at the same token, it gives our guys one more test to see where they are against I think one of the top-15 teams in the country.”

The Bears (14-3, 2-2 Big 12) are coming off a near upset at No. 3 Kansas Wednesday night, losing 81-75. Junior guard LaceDarius Dunn had 27 points in the effort, while Tweety Carter added 17.

“They have a ton of height, and they play a ton of juniors and seniors and guys that were highly rated out of high school,” Kellogg said, noting that he recruited a number of players to come to Memphis, where he was an assistant prior to UMass.

Baylor starts Josh Lomers (7-feet), Ekpe Udoh (6-10) and Anthony Jones (6-10) in its backcourt, and has a pair of quick guards in Dunn and Carter.

The Bears have had success against A-10 opponents so far this season, beating Xavier 69-64 behind 27 points from Carter.

If the Minutemen are given the opportunity to take open 3-pointers, they must convert them, as the Bears allow an average of 7.6 three-pointers per game.

“I think going 4-for-23 with an outside shooting team is not conducive to winning basketball, so we have to get in the gym, and shoot more,” Kellogg said.

The game will be air on ESPNU. It will be UMass’ 100th all-time game against a ranked opponent. The Minutemen have gone 30-69 all-time against Associated Press Top 25 teams.

David Brinch can be reached at dbrinch@student.umass.edu.

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